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New Belgian road toll in force from April 1

Irish- and UK-based commercial vehicle operators planning to travel through Belgium from next month are being warned that failure to be prepared for a new electronic road toll system would be a costly error.

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The new toll system, run by Viapass, comes into force from 1 April 2016 and is more costly, more widespread and more complicated than the Eurovignette scheme it replaces. Whereas Eurovignettes can be bought easily online or at filling stations for as little as €8 (£6.20) and are common to the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark and Sweden as well as Belgium, the new Belgian toll system is entirely electronic and depends on an on-board unit (OBU) for every vehicle with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) over 3.5 tonnes, regardless of whether it is used privately or commercially.

The Eurovignette system applied only to trucks over 12 tonnes GVW. The per vehicle deposit required for buying a new Belgian OBU on the web or service points is €135 (£105). Each OBU can be registered only for one specific vehicle and cannot be transferred to another. The fine for each violation of the new road-charging scheme starts at €1,000 (£780). 

Transport operators are being strongly advised to order and install all the OBUs they need for Belgium as soon as possible and not leave it to drivers at the border. Queues at service points are expected to be long, according to Marcel Frings from TimoCom, a truck telematics system provider based in Germany. TimoCom is advising all its customers to buy the Belgian OBUs as soon as they can, and in bulk.

Toll fees will vary from one part of Belgium to another, and according to vehicle plated weight and engine emissions certification level. A Euro-VI truck in the greater Brussels area can expect a charge of around 20 cents per kilometre.

The Belgian road-charging scheme is the latest of six or seven in the EU depending on individual on-board units, points out Chris Yarsley, Freight Transport Association EU Affairs Manager. The European Commission is under intense pressure from several commercial vehicle operator trade associations, including FTA, to introduce legislation making true inter-operability of these OBUs mandatory. 

At present a truck operator travelling across Europe will need as many as seven separate OBUs lined up at the base of a truck windscreen just to be able to pay various road tolls in different member states. The theoretical inter-operability of these schemes does not exist in practice.

Germany was first to withdraw from the Eurovignette scheme, introducing its Toll-Collect system ( known as the “maut”) in January 2005. But this applies only to trucks over 12 tonnes GVW. The UK’s truck road-charging scheme, the “road user levy”, came into force in April 2014 but is time- rather than distance-based so does not require vehicles to be fitted with separate OBUs.